Israel strikes back after attacks

AN Israeli air strike has killed a Gaza militant just hours after Islamic Jihad vowed to observe an Egyptian-brokered truce following a day of violence that killed 10.

The spike in violence, which began when a rocket hit Israel on Wednesday and escalated sharply over the weekend, was the most deadly confrontation in and around the Gaza Strip in more than two months.

Shortly before dawn yesterday, militant groups including Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Islamic Jihad, which has been central to the latest bloodshed, said they would observe a truce as long as Israel reciprocated.

Calm prevailed for some eight hours before Israel mounted a fresh air strike on what the military said was “a terrorist squad that was preparing to fire rockets at Israel”, killing one militant and wounding another.

The attack raised to 10 the number of Palestinian militants killed in little more than 24 hours, as well as one Israeli, who died after being hit by rocket shrapnel.

Witnesses named the dead man as Ahmed Jarghun and said he was a member of the armed wing of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).

The DFLP was one of the groups which had signed up to the truce, but the faction made no mention of the ceasefire in a statement in which it called on militant groups to “respond to this cowardly crime”.

Later yesterday, another leftist group – the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – claimed responsibility for firing two rockets at Ashkelon.

An Israeli police spokeswoman, however, said no rockets had hit Israel since the morning, while army radio reported that a rocket aimed at Israel had apparently fallen short in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli strike occurred shortly after thousands of angry mourners packed the streets of Rafah for the funerals of the nine militants killed on Saturday, all of them from the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad.

Wrapped in white shrouds draped with black Islamic Jihad flags, the bodies were carried through the streets as the crowds vowed bloody revenge.

Addressing the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the truce as meaningless.

“There is no ceasefire,” he told ministers. “I promise that the other side will pay even higher prices than what it has paid till now until it stops shooting.

“We will prevent any attempt to shoot at Israel, and will strike at anybody who nevertheless succeeds,” he said, saying the Jewish state would hold Hamas responsible for “maintaining the quiet”.

“We are not being belligerent and do not seek a flare-up, but will protect ourselves according to these principles.”

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